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Sibling Rivalry: How to Stop the Madness

Erin Nicolas

Since the beginning of time, siblings have been at each other’s throats.  It’s one of the most frustrating things for parents and one of the most difficult things to manage.  The tattling, the bickering, the never-ending shout for mom to settle things…. it’s exhausting.  Sometimes rivalry starts when kids are trying to define who they are by standing out from the siblings.  Sometimes it starts when one kid gets better grades than another or when a younger sibling gets a privilege sooner than the older sibling did.  Sometimes, personalities just clash.  Whatever the cause (and there are many), dealing with it is a major parenting challenge.

One of the first ways to minimize sibling rivalry is to not play favorites.  This seems like such an obvious thing to most parents, but we often show favoritism in subtle, unintentional ways.  Parents may not even realize that they are playing favorites, but children feel it none the less.  Children feel favoritism when we get onto them more than their siblings (even when they act up more).  They feel it when we spend more time helping them prepare for baseball tryouts.  They feel it when we talk about their sibling more.  Sometimes it is necessary and even unavoidable to engage in these behaviors but when they persist over time, sibling rivalry can fester.  Therefore, be mindful of your actions.  When one child is shining above the others for whatever reason, make sure to notice the wonderful things your other kids are doing as well.  When one child gets extra attention because they are struggling in school, make sure you set aside some one on one time with your other children so they don’t feel left out.

Another way to minimize sibling rivalry is to allow each one of your children to find their talent or passion and enjoy it with them.  While it can be challenging to find time to make it to every child’s activity, do your best to make it to as many as possible.  And when you can’t be there, ask them how it went.  Get the details and really listen.  They need to know that you are interested.  It’s tempting to sign our kids up for the same sport or to play the same instrument.  We think if one kid likes it, the other is bound to.  When our kids are all involved in the same thing, we inevitably compare them to each other and that can lead to rivalry.  That naturally happens enough in other areas. Instead, we need to listen to our kids, hear where their interests lie, and find a way to help them pursue their unique passions.

A third way to minimize sibling rivalry is to make sure you model healthy conflict resolution skills.  We are our children’s number one role model.  They watch us like hawks and often mimic our behavior.  If they see us irritating our spouse on purpose, they might do the same with their siblings.  If we make passive aggressive comments to our neighbors, they will learn that it’s okay to do the same.  When we argue with our spouses, our children need to see us apologize and make amends.  Sibling rivalry isn’t always avoidable.  Sometimes children struggle with resentment when a baby comes into the world.  Sometimes children have a naturally competitive spirit.    Sometimes they are just tired or bored and looking for entertainment.  However, when parents take steps to make each child feel special and loved for who they are, sibling rivalry can be a passing phase.

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